I’m excited about rain. Likely a sign that I’ve become a true Californian, the smell of rain makes me slightly giddy. One year, when it rained particularly hard, I picked my daughter up from school early just so we could get dressed in our rain gear and boots and go play in the puddles. Never mind that this act, in and of itself, is a bizarre symbol of the “times we’re livin’ in.” Obviously the neighborhood kids ought to be running around jumping in puddles together, but since the neighborhood kids don’t come outside unattended, I’m playing the role (with the side benefit of a little re-lived childhood for me).
Our excursion took us through the Douglas Family Preserve, first to the “balance beam” tree, then to the Puddle of Depth. This puddle offered an optical illusion: the wood chips that comprise the walking paths through the park float on the surface, densely packed as if to emulate their former non-floating selves. We goaded each other on, daring the other to set a rain-boot down on the false surface. I held the sole of my boot right on the surface, pretending to walk on water, and then splashed all the way in. In the center of the puddle the water flirted with the top of my boots, almost knee-high.
More than an hour later we had wound our way through six more major puddles, an investigation into the rain-drop collecting abilities of grass blades, and the muddy back trail leading from the north side of the Douglas Preserve down towards Hendry’s Beach. We were getting tired, and I was glad about my plan to take the shorter route back, flat along the beach rather than returning up hill through the park.
Upon reaching the beach we were met with an unforeseen obstacle. The usually mild trickle of the slough had become a roiling river, 45 feet across and of indeterminable depth. The brown water gathered itself from an entire watershed, all of it attempting to re-discover the ocean at once. We were the sole human inhabitants of the beach then, with the sun near setting and the seagulls keeping their distance. On my right was a bedraggled eight year-old, wishing for the quickest route home. On my left, the misplaced Mississippi.
Weighing the value of an intrepid fording of the slough against the possible dangers (which were less real than simply visually intimidating), I stood for a good 15 minutes. I figured the worst case scenario was a solid dunking for both of us, with maybe an ear infection thrown in.
Perched on my back, my daughter’s job was to hold on tight with arms and legs (without choking me, please) while I used a sturdy stick to find the ground in front of us, take a step, and avoid getting swept along with the fast water, repeating this process until we were across. At the deepest the water encircled my hips. On the other side, we were dry from the waist up and exuberant.
If we had turned back, the day would have blended in with many other muddy winter memories. Instead, we have the kind of memory that grows larger with time. The river grows wider with each re-telling and my daughter’s voice rises with excitement.
Last time it rained, we were driving somewhere in the car, and my daughter had a friend with her in the back seat. The dialogue that happens back there is often my window into the inner thoughts of the kids, so I pretend that I’m just driving, listening to the radio and minding my own grownup business.
Here’s how the conversation went:
Kid 1 (my daughter):
“Know why the ocean doesn’t like the rain?”
“Cuz the rain washes all the trash into the ocean.”
The tempo feels like an elementary school joke, but it’s not funny. Of all the things to think of when it rains, from the seeds that will germinate underground to the replenished reservoirs and mud-puddles, she thought of trash.
David Sobel, one of my enviro-educator heroes, says that we can’t expect our kids to want to preserve nature unless we let them fall in love with it first. Environmental education has become a standard in elementary-school curriculum, which is good. But most of our kids are learning about the big scary problems, about what is wrong out in nature, before they have found their own personal connection with it, and that’s bad. Perhaps we might consider shifting schools’ focus from teaching our kids about rainforests and pollution, and take the kids out to play in the rain instead.